In Wake of Mass Shootings, 'Scared' New Yorkers Apply in Droves for Handgun Permits

In response to the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, and Paris, gun merchants in and around New York City say, residents are flocking to stores like never before in search of firearms.

Nationally, President Barack Obama recently reiterated his call for stricter gun-control laws. Closer to home, in Connecticut, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced a plan to prevent prospective buyers from purchasing a gun if they are on a federal terrorism watch list. New York State already has some of the strictest gun control legislation in the nation, including statewide bans on assault weapons, but store owners and license specialists say people are lining up to buy their first handguns as a means of protection. 

“I can definitely say there’s a lot more inquiries on how to get handgun permits,” says Arnold Martin of Pistol License Specialists of New York, a handgun license consulting firm near Madison Square Park. “Since the recent attacks, a lot more people have been calling to ask about licenses.”

Store owners themselves are reporting an increase in sales as well — especially among first-time buyers. Darren Leung, of Westside Rifle and Pistol Range in Chelsea, says his shop is always busy, but recently he's gone from selling about twenty handguns a month to between thirty and forty. "But it's all predicated upon first getting a license," he says.

Outside of the city, “We’ve noticed quite an increase in gun sales in the last three weeks or so – a lot of first-time buyers,” says A.J. Greene of Coliseum Gun Traders, a store in suburban Uniondale in Nassau County. “People don’t feel confident being unarmed in the current situation, with all the shootings.”

In the Westchester County town of Mount Vernon, “It’s getting busier and busier,” says Michael Timlin at RT Smoke & Gun Shop. “Every time you hear of more regulations on the local, state, or federal level, on top of the terrorist incidents, there’s always a spike."

In New York State, a permit is required to own a handgun, but not a shotgun or rifle. If someone passes the required NYPD background check, approval is relatively easy. In the city, applicants must fill out a seventeen-page form in person, pay $340 for a three-year permit, and fork over $89.75 to be fingerprinted. Then they must be interviewed by the police. In 2010, the New York Times sued the NYPD for the department's entire database of gun permit holders and their addresses. The paper then reported in 2011 that 41,164 handguns were registered in the city.

According to the Times' article, of those licensed to have handguns, nearly 4,000 have a concealed-carry permit, which Leung calls the "holy grail" of handgun licenses.

"The chances of you getting robbed are better than you getting that carry permit," he says. "There’s so much more paperwork involved, you have to get vetted a lot more."

The NYPD's licensing division, which awards all gun permits in New York City, did not immediately return calls from the Voice. But according to FBI data, on average, over the first nine months of 2015, New York State conducted 25,314 firearm background checks per month on prospective gun buyers. In October 33,282 background checks were conducted. The number spiked again in November, to 36,421.

In New York City, Martin says, a number of people trying to get licenses are being denied because they don’t qualify. Some potential customers cannot pass the background check because they have criminal records.

“The city doesn’t give out licenses like they’re giving out ice cream cones, which is why we’re here to help our clients get through the maze of paperwork,” Martin says. His company, which charges $495 for its services, offers a “money-back guarantee if you don’t get approved, but our success rate for approvals is almost 100 percent.”

Martin's company assists with all aspects, including coaching and tutoring clients on how to pass the NYPD interview. Clients are also offered a complimentary one-year membership to a gun range.

Considering the time and money it takes to get a permit, being a gun-owner in New York City can be an expensive proposition. Between the permit, the cost of a weapon, and a shooting-range membership, "you're looking at $1,500," says Leung of the Chelsea gun shop. "And that's being conservative." Most handguns, Leung says, can run between $500 and $3,000.

But gun dealers say customers are willing to pay to feel safer.

"We talk to customers and they fear the government can’t protect them," Leung adds. "The fear is there. It all comes down to two words: 'I’m scared.' "

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